European Roundup: 10 countries in 10 minutes or less!
This leg of our European tour starts in France where Bordeaux revived their Ligue 1 title hopes when Pierre Ducasse’s stunning 25-metre strike in stoppage time earned them a 2-1 win at Olympique Marseille on the weekend. Second-placed Bordeaux, on 71 points with two games left, are two points behind leaders and six-times champions Olympique Lyon, who drew 0-0 at Nice on Saturday. Marseille now sit fourth, two points behind Nancy, who hold the qualifying spot for the Champions League third preliminary round following their 3-0 thrashing of strugglers Racing Strasbourg on Saturday. St Etienne stay fifth, four points adrift of fourth-placed Marseille with Lille a further point behind.
On to Germany, where there were some mid-week games and of importance was Werder Bremen winning 1-0 at Hamburger SV despite finishing with nine men. The win clinches a top-three finish for Werder, and at least a place in the Champions League qualifiers, for themselves and Schalke 04. Hamburg and VfB Stuttgart are in fourth and fifth on 51 points, meaning the best they can now hope for is qualification for the UEFA Cup. Bayer Leverkusen, who were beaten 2-1 at home by Hertha Berlin on Wednesday, remain in sixth place on 48 points.
Next we stop off in Romania and say congratulations to CFR Cluj, from the city of Cluj-Napoca, who were crowned Romanian champions for the first time on Wednesday after a 1-0 win over Universitatea Cluj. CFR finished on 76 points, one point ahead of Steaua Bucharest who ended their campaign with a 5-0 rout of Gloria Buzau. CFR Cluj becomes the first team outside of Bucharest to win Liga I in 17 years. A penalty 15 minutes into the second half from Manuel Riccardo Cadu, after Brazilian Correia Edvan had fouled Argentine substitute striker Diego Ruiz, handed CFR victory. Unfortunately it was not all happy times as riot police had to fire tear gas to disperse Universitatea fans who attempted to attack CFR supporters. A special congrats to Canadian goalkeeper Lars Hirschfeld after leaving Norwegian club Rosenborg BK.
In Bulgaria, CSKA Sofia claimed their 31st Bulgarian league title finishing well ahead of Levski and Lokomotiv Sofia, both of whom will take part in the Champions League 2nd Qualifying Round. CSKA Sofia are entered into the 3rd Qualifying Round. CSKA had a truly dominant season allowing only 9 goals in 28 matches while scoring 50 times.
In Serbia, Partizan Belgrade recently won their 10th national cup with a 3-0 rout of second division neighbours Zemun thanks to a hat-trick by Senegalese striker Lamine Diarra. Zemun could become the first third-division Serbian side to play in Europe as they are four points adrift of safety with as many matches remaining in the second tier but they will qualify for the UEFA Cup if league leaders Partizan complete the double. They are currently 3 points up on last year’s champions FK Crvena Zvezda. The winner of the league is entered into the Champions League Second Qualifying Round, while the runner-up is in the UEFA Cup Second Qualifying Round.
The champions of Croatian football are once again Dinamo Zagreb, who won the league title last month with six games to spare. They will enter the competition at the very first qualifying round of the Champions League while runners-up Hajduk Split will be entered into UEFA Cup qualifying.
In the Czech Republic, Sparta Prague are closing in on their 35th league title but dropped valuable points at the weekend after a 2-0 loss to FC Brno. That allowed their bitter city foes Slavia Prague to come within a point after a win over Olomouc. With two games left Slavia’s title challenge is back on after leading the table through much of the early season then faltering in form. In recent weeks Sparta and Slavia have taken turns faltering which has made the run-in quite exciting and unpredictable. Whoever wins the league will get a place in the Third Qualifying Round while the runner-up starts in the Second Qualifying Round.
Next door we check in on the Slovakian Corgon Liga where FC Artmedia Petržalka (FC Artmedia Bratislava) can now claim their first ever league and cup double after taking home the Slovakian Cup (Slovenský Pohár) by defeating FC Spartak Trnava 1-0 in Zilina. Artmedia are sitting six points ahead of second-place side MSK Zilina in the league.
In Turkey, Galatasaray held off the challenge of rivals, and this year’s surprise package in the Champions League, Fenerbahçe. Shabani Nonda led the way for Galatasaray with 14 goals after his transfer from A.S. Roma. Nonda also had a loan spell at Blackburn Rovers before moving permanently away from Italy. The real strength of the team was at the back as they only allowed 23 goals in 33 games in a league that can be quite high-scoring. The backline was bolstered by the emergence of Emre Güngör who pushed former Liverpool defender Rigobert Song to the substitutes bench in the second half of the season. The 23-year-old was rumoured to be sought after by Fenerbahce but he ended up signing with Galatasaray and they will hope to keep hold of him for a few seasons.
Finally we stop in Greece, where the Super League was won by Olympiacos finishing ahead of AEK Athens by a mere two points. Caretaker manager José Segura has done an admirable job guiding the team to the title after Takis Lemonis was fired for sub-par league performances despite a strong run in the Champions League. A special attaboy to Canadian striker Tomasz Radzinski who finished fourth in the Greek league scoring with 14 goals from 21 appearances for AC Skoda Xanthi.